The Aboriginal people consisted of over 500 nomadic tribes and 700 language groups before they were confronted with the British colonization of Australia. This colonization introduced foreign diseases and even genocide to the Aborigines. It was very difficult for the indigenous groups to see their native land being taken over, especially because they were people who valued land as the "heart and core of the culture," said Ellen Osthus 03.
Since the time of colonization, overall suppression of Aboriginal culture has produced many social problems. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and laziness have become stereotypical afflictions of the Aborigines. The interim in Australia included a visit to Ninga Mia, a community for indigenous people that is both alcohol and drug free. However, St. Olaf students pointed out that problems are still present within communities like these because of limited government funding.
There is a difference between "what white people think funding should go to versus what [the Aborigines] need," said Osthus.
For example, the Aborigines prefer to live in large family groups rather than in the small houses made for nuclear families that are provided for them. Also, Osthus continued, services like health care might go unused because of the "blatant racism" that is still a threat to Aborigines in Australia.
Aboriginal people who teach others about their culture are improving this situation, said the students. The only Center for Aboriginal Studies is now located in Perth, Western Australia, where the class was able to study. Students also compared the plight of the Aboriginal people to that of Native Americans.
In chapel, students took turns speaking about the history of the Aboriginal culture and the experiences that they had while in Australia.
The group also presented an Aboriginal poem entitled "Maybe Tomorrow," and a song in native dialect.
According to Osthus, it was nice to be able to share her experiences publicly on a campus that is "really internationally minded." She hopes that her class chapel presentation was able to introduce people to a "phenomenal culture" that is often overlooked.